Way back in the spring at the FIGT (Families in Global Transition) Conference in Washington DC, there was a move to redefine the term used to describe the spouse-following-the-spouse-with-the-job. That’s the one usually following several months behind the first with suitcases, children, and the dog – frazzled, frustrated and not taking any prisoners.
Oft times referred to as the ‘trailing spouse’ or the ‘accompanying partner’ these terms don’t encompass the role the supporting spouse (male or female) plays. At the FIGT the acronym STARS was suggested. (Spouses Traveling and Relocating Successfully). Coined, I believe, by Apple Gidley.
This in itself has caused some interesting debate. My friend Linda over at adventuresinexpatland wrote an interesting piece in April entitled Expat Bougainvillea: Tale of the ‘Trailing Spouse after reading an article before that written by Evelyn Simpson at thesmartexpat.com.
Evelyn has written further on this subject, ‘Still an Accompanying Partner’ and I respect what she has to say, and was particularly drawn to the comments:
‘Now as you all know, I hate/despise/loathe the term ‘trailing spouse’ for all of the reasons I’ve been ranting on about for the last year or so, but won’t be using STARS either. Why? The nomenclature for what we are doing serves two purposes. The first is that it gives us a way to describe what we are doing to other people and the second is that it gives the HR community a way to refer to us as a group.’
Evelyn got me at HR and I sat up and started to take notice.
‘The first is that it gives us a way to describe what we are doing to other people and the second is that it gives the HR community a way to refer to us as a group. STARS/CEO of Team X/Execuwife are great in the first instance as they help to paper over those awkward ‘what do you do’ conversations with a bit of humour and they mean that we can describe ourselves with words that don’t feel demeaning. Unfortunately, I don’t think any of them help in the more important HR conversation. I just can’t imagine HR/Relocation professionals referring to expats and their STARS.’
It was ‘HR’ and ‘important conversation’ used in the same sentence that really hooked me in.
I’ve never given much thought to HR accept as those faceless, nameless wonders with the clipboards who make decisions about our lives without having a clue who we are, never mind how we live.
On our last move they failed to insure the contents of our home whilst in transit, saying they didn’t think we were bringing anything with us. The fact they’d booked a 40-foot container and had been emailing the removal company daily would have been a clue to most people. We never did recover the full cost of the damage.
As the trailing/ accompanying spouse/ partner I’ve never had an important conversation with HR. Ever. I’ve had dictates, instructions, reams of paperwork but a sane two-way conversation? Never.
How HR refer to me I have no idea. It has honestly never occurred to me they might have a need to describe or pigeonhole me as the Captain’s sidekick. It’s not me who works for the company after all. Up until recently I was referred to as ‘that bloody woman’ but whether that’s still the case I’m not entirely sure.
Nor have I any desire to be a trailing anything. I love wisteria as a flower but these days it brings to mind The Wisteria Sisters (as The Duchess of Cambridge and her sister were refered to by the UK tabloid press) but I digress.
Clinging wisteria I am not. Nor do I particularly like the term accompanying spouse, STARS appeals if only to get under the skin of the HR department but – and I have to be absolutely honest here – I really don’t give a rats bottom how anyone wants to define me.
I have never been in a social situation where ‘trailing/ accompanying spouse/ partner’ would have been an appropriate response to any question. I’ve been asked what I do but ‘I’m a trailing spouse’ is not the answer. (In such situations I have been known to make something up just to enliven the proceedings, but there’s only so many times you can get away with claiming you’ve been assigned from NASA to train astronauts at the European Space Centre.)
If I had to close my eyes and picture who I am, then the image I always see is the searing desert, dry, hot wind blowing from the Sahara and me organising the taking down of the tents and loading up a caravan of camels. The next scenario is riding at the front of that caravan, robes billowing behind and setting off towards the sun-baked dunes on the distant horizon… and Johnny Depp waiting at the next oasis.
Forget trailing/ accompanying spouse/ partner, in my mind’s eye I’m just a glorified nomadic camel-herder setting off on the next adventure. It works for me.